Molecular biologist Shirley Luckhart, who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology (and soon will transition to the University of Idaho), has been named the recipient of the Medical, Urban and Veterinary Entomology Award.
Ant specialist Marek Borowiec, who received his doctorate in entomology in June 2016, studying with major professor Phil Ward, won the Systematics, Evolution, and Biodiversity Award. He is now a postdoctoral fellow at Arizona State University, Tempe.
Third-year graduate student Ralph Washington Jr., who studies with major professors Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and assistant professor Brian Johnson, won the Student Leadership Award.
The three will be among the 13 award recipients honored at the PBESA meeting, April 2-5 in Portland, Ore. PBESA encompasses 11 Western U.S. states, plus several U.S. territories and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Ralph Washington Jr.
Ralph Washington Jr., who received his bachelor of science degree in entomology at UC Davis in 2010, is known as an outstanding scholar and leader. He holds a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. He has also previously received a Gates Millennium Scholarship, a Ronald E. McNair Graduate Fellowship, and a Monsanto Graduate Student Scholarship.
Washington is active in leadership roles on the UC Davis campus, UC systemwide, and in PBESA and the Entomological Society of America (ESA). He captained the UC Davis Linnaean Games team to several first place wins at the PBESA level and then led his team in winning the national championship in both 2015 and 2016. He was an integral part of the UC Davis Student Debate Team that won the ESA's 2014 national championship. In addition, he swept first place in the Natural History Trivia Competition at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Naturalists.
Washington's leadership activities include 2015-2016 co-chair of the UC Council of Student Body Presidents, and 2015-2016 Chair of the UC Davis Graduate Students' Association. He was named Graduate Student of the Year in 2015 and 2016 at the UC Davis Black Affirmation Awards. He is currently president of the University of California Student Association. He is active in social justice issues, including gender-based violence and misconduct, and institutional oppression.
Washington was one of nine people invited to speak at TEDxUCDavis Conference (Igniting X). "All human beings are born curious, but the wrong conditions can jeopardize that curiosity," he said, speaking on “Science, Poverty and the Human Imagination.”
“Many children in poverty grow up feeling a lack of control over their circumstances, and this severely inhibits their ability to imagine a reality other than their own,” said Washington, who grew up in an impoverished family. “Targeted science education starting from a young age can inspire and help struggling children."
Marek Borowiec, who holds a master's degree in zoology from the University of Wroclaw, Poland, joined the Phil Ward lab in 2010, receiving training as a molecular phylogeneticist and computational biologist. Borowiec is now a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of evolutionary biologist/ant specialist Christian Rabeling, Arizona State University, where he studies the genomics of speciation and evolution of social parasitism in Formica ants.
One of the highlights of Borowiec's career: last year he won the coveted George C. Eickwort Student Research Award, sponsored by the North American Section of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI-NAS).
“Marek is an astute and dedicated scientist, with an insightful mind, diverse interests, and trenchant drive,” wrote Phil Ward in the awards nominations packet. “Marek's Ph.D. research was motivated by a strong interest in the patterns and processes underlying the genesis of biological diversity. He explored this through a range of studies on ant systematics, phylogeny and biogeography. The principal focus was on the evolution of army ants—those charismatic and notorious creatures that have a profound ecological impact in many communities—and he showed decisively that the ‘army ant syndrome' evolved independently in the New World and Old World tropics, settling a long-standing controversy on this matter.
Borowiec has published more than 25 papers, many focusing on the phylogeny of army ants, relationships among “basal” lineages of ants, and a collaborative phylogenomic project on ants and their relatives.
He is a subject editor for ZooKeys, an innovative systematics journal, and Biodiversity Data Journal; he receives frequent requests to review manuscripts for other journals.
Shirley Luckhart was lauded for her “highly regarded expertise on molecular cell biology and biochemistry of malaria parasite transmission.” Her expertise on vector-borne diseases encompasses mosquito and black fly vectors of filarial nematodes and Lyme disease ecology as well as mosquito biology, disease pathogenesis, and transmission blocking agents for malaria.
Luckhart, who received her doctorate in entomology in 1995 from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, joined the UC Davis faculty in 2004 from Virginia Tech. Since 1997, the National Institutes of Health has continuously funded her research on host-parasite interactions in malaria.
She was named a Fellow of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 2014. She and her colleagues drew international acclaim when Time Magazine, in 2010, named their work on a “malaria-proof” or genetically engineered mosquito as one of the “Top 50 Inventions of the Year,” ranking it No. 1 in the health category.
While most of her work has been lab-based, Luckhart has worked with collaborators in Kenya for the past 20 years and on highly productive field- and lab-based collaborative projects in Mali, Cameroon, and Colombia. Her career includes principal investigator on large awards to both national and international teams and co-director of multiple National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grants. She currently serves on the NIH Vector Biology study section and is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for the Biodefense and Emerging Infections Research Resources Repository (BEI Resources).
For the past five years, Luckhart has chaired the national BEI Vectors Focus Group, which works with NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases leadership to significantly expand vector and vector-borne pathogen resources globally. These efforts also led to the development of an independent Allied Insect Biology working group to engage scientists in trans-disciplinary workshops and collaborations across plant, animal, and human vector-borne diseases. In recognition of her efforts, Luckhart was invited to deliver the keynote address at the Keystone meeting in Taos, N.M., in May 2015.
Luckhart also received $100,000 from Grand Challenges Explorations, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to advance her work in developing nutritional supplements to reverse the malaria-induced intestinal damage that contributes to the development of non-typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) bacteremia in malaria-infected children.
At UC Davis, she served as interim co-director of the Center for Vector-borne Diseases from 2014-15 and chaired the graduate level Designated Emphasis in the Biology of Vector-borne Diseases from 2012 to just recently, when she stepped down from these duties. She also directs a large collaborative insectary facility at UC Davis, providing support to vector-borne disease research programs in the School of Medicine, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and the School of Veterinary Medicine.
Luckhart has published 93 peer-reviewed articles, with more than 2500 citations, and five book chapters. Throughout her career, she has taught and mentored nine doctoral students, who have gone on to successful careers at the state, national or international level. In recognition of her work, she received mentoring awards from the UC Davis Consortium for Women and Research (2012) and the UC Davis Graduate Student Association (2016).
Luckhart will transition to the University of Idaho, effective May 15. She and her husband, Edwin Lewis, associate dean for Agricultural Sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and former vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will expand their research programs and also co-direct the new Center for Health in the Human Ecosystem, which will focus on how the impacts of land use, including agriculture, urbanization and deforestation, interact to impact transmission and control of disease agents of people, animals and plants.
Luckhart's primary appointment is in the Department of Plant, Soil and Entomological Sciences (PSES) in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and her secondary appointment is in the Department of Biological Sciences. Lewis' appointment is in PSES.
Lewis won the PBESA's Integrated Pest Management Excellence Award in 2016,
Other 2017 PBESA award recipients to be honored at the PBESA meeting in Oregon:
- Pacific Branch C.W. Woodworth Award- Gerhard and Regine Gries, Simon Fraser University, Canada
- Award for Excellence in Teaching- Helen Spafford, University of Hawaii, Manoa
- Award for Excellence in Extension- Carol Black, Washington State University (WSU), Pullman
- Award for Excellence in Integrated Pest Management- Elizabeth Beers, WSU
- Physiology, Biochemistry and Toxicology Award- Ramesh Sagili, Oregon State University, Corvallis
- Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award- David Crowder, WSU
- Distinction in Student Mentoring- James Strange, USDA, Logan, Utah
- Excellence in Early Career- Sarah Woodard, UC Riverside
- John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Award- Amelia Lindsey, UC Riverside
- Entomology Team Award-- Lisa Neven, Wee Yee and Sunil Kumar, Colorado State University, Ft. Collins--for their project “Pest Risk Analyses for Temperate Fruit Flies in Exported Fruits Team”
The award recognizes a graduate student for distinguished research and scholarly activity in the field of social insect biology. Borowiec received a certificate, honorarium, and a one-year subscription to Insectes Sociaux.
Borowiec is now a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of evolutionary biologist/ant specialist Christian Rabeling of Rochester, N.Y. The lab will be moving to Tempe, Ariz. in January.
“What is notable about Marek is that even as he became trained as a highly accomplished molecular phylogeneticist and computational biologist, he remained focused on organism-centered questions, driven by a deep and abiding appreciation of natural history,” said Ward.
Borowiec is the first from the Ward lab to receive the Eickwort Award.
The IUSSI-NAS Committee, chaired by Terry McGlynn and Stephen Pratt, and including members Rebecca Clark, Hongmei Li-Byarlay, Juliana Rangel, and Chris Smith, praised his work as having a significant impact on the field of social insect evolutionary biology.
They issued this statement:
“Although he has just received his PhD, Marek's work has already had a significant impact on the field of social insect evolutionary biology,” said the committee of . “His dissertation, completed under the supervision of Phil Ward at UC Davis, included a landmark revision of the genera in the diverse army ant subfamily Dorylinae. Marek produced a classification of the army ants in which morphological and molecular genetic data are fully congruent with each other, an unprecedented feat in ant taxonomy. His work showed decisively that the ‘army ant syndrome' evolved independently in the New World and Old World tropics, settling a century-old controversy.”
“Besides his army ant work, Marek also contributed to phylogenomic research demonstrating that ants are the sister group of the bees and spheciform wasps, and he was first author of an important paper showing that Ctenophora, the comb jellies, is the sister group to all other metazoans, thus resolving one of the earliest phylogenetic bifurcations in the animal kingdom. Marek's strengths in taxonomy and phylogenetics are supported by his accomplishments in bioinformatics, which include developing and publishing a novel tool to manipulate DNA sequence alignments of genomic datasets.”
“Marek's recommenders praise him as a well-rounded biologist with a deep appreciation of natural history. “He doesn't just excel in ant taxonomy, or phylogenetics, or bioinformatics. He excels in all of these disciplines. It is his love for ants and his curiosity about the natural world that motivates his studies.”
Marek is also a good scientific citizen, actively serving the systematics community as a subject editor for ZooKeys and Biodiversity Data Journal and as a frequent contributor to online systematics resources and databases. His research and scholarly achievements make Marek Borowiec a very deserving winner of this year's George C. Eickwort Student Research Award.”
Borowiec's research interests include phylogeny, taxonomy, biogeography, and natural history of ants. Before enrolling at UC Davis, Borowiec received his master's degree in 2009 from the Department of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Taxonomy, University of Wroclaw, Poland.
"My focus has been primarily on ant diversity and evolution and in my research I combine field work, morphology, molecular phylogenetics, and comparative methods," Borowiec said. "I am also interested in computing and phylogeny estimation from next-generation sequencing data."
This is his exit seminar. Borowiec received his doctorate in entomology in June, studying with major professor Phil Ward. He is now a postdoc in the lab of evolutionary biologist/ant specialist Christian Rabeling of Rochester, N.Y. The lab will be moving to Tempe, Ariz. in January.
"Ants are the world's most successful eusocial organisms." Borowiec says. "Long history, high species diversity, and extreme variety of life histories make them an excellent group in which many evolutionary questions can be addressed."
His research interests include phylogeny, taxonomy, biogeography, and natural history of ants. Before enrolling at UC Davis, Borowiec received his master's degree in 2009 from the Department of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Taxonomy, University of Wroclaw, Poland.
"My focus has been primarily on ant diversity and evolution and in my research I combine field work, morphology, molecular phylogenetics, and comparative methods," Borowiec says. "I am also interested in computing and phylogeny estimation from next-generation sequencing data."
His dissertation research at UC Davis focused on building a taxonomic and phylogenetic framework for the research on army ant evolution. "Although army ants include very charismatic species, they belong to a larger group, the subfamily Dorylinae," he noted. "In addition to the army ants, dorylines comprise many cryptic ants whose biology and even taxonomy have been neglected. Partly as a result of this, even phylogenetic relationships of the army ants are not well-understood. The first step to advancing evolutionary research in the group was thus to examine the morphological diversity within this lineage. This resulted in a generic revision of the subfamily, published open-access in ZooKeys. Expertise gained during this work allowed me to design robust taxon sampling for a phylogeny of the dorylines based on next-generation sequencing data (ultraconserved elements or UCEs), currently in preparation."
Snelling, 74, an internationally known entomologist who primarily studied ants, wasps and bees and worked in collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for more than three decades, left behind an unfinished manuscript when he died April 21, 2008 while on an ant expedition in Kenya.
His work included 10 new species of Temnothorax ants, mostly from California but also from Nevada and Baja, California.
Today it is seeing the light of day, thanks to two ant specialists at the University of California, Davis: Marek Borowiec and Matthew Prebus of the UC Department of Entomology and Nematology. They recently published the work, with Snelling listed as a co-author, in ZooKeys and linked each described specimen to the AntWeb database.
Snelling's son, Gordon, gave the draft to Borowiec and Prebus to complete and publish. Both are doctoral candidates in the Phil Ward lab.
The 10 new species of a Temnothorax ants doubles the number of species of this genus in California.
The era of electronic publishing in taxonomy has greatly facilitated the accessibility of specimen data, the entomologists said. ZooKeys has been long spearheaded the wide and rapid dissemination of taxonomic information.
"We include 20 species known from California in our study but at present, there are about 60 species, including those described, of Temnothorax known from North America and more than 350 species worldwide so our study is of somewhat limited scope,” the authors said in a news release. "Nevertheless, we believe that by officially describing these forms and giving a new illustrated key, we are providing a useful resource for myrmecologists working in western North America."
AntWeb is an online ant database that focuses on specimen level data and images linked to specimens. In addition, contributors can submit natural history information and field images that are linked directly to taxonomic names. Distribution maps and field guides are generated automatically. All data in AntWeb are downloadable by users.
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) where Snelling worked, houses more than 35 million specimens, some dating back 4.5 billion years. Snelling built up the ant collection there.
Roy Snelling "is one of the most significant figures in modern myrmecology," wrote ant specialist/insect photographer Alex Wild in his Myrmecos blog. Wild holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, where he studied with major professor Phil Ward.
Snelling, born of Cherokee Indian heritage in 1934 in Turlock, was basically a self-taught entomologist. He studied at a junior college in Modesto and later in life, did graduate-level studies at the University of Kansas. Snelling served in the U.S. Army and was an inspector with the California Department of Food and Agriculture before joining NHM.
Wrote Wild: "Roy's prolific career as a curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County produced dozens of studies on the taxonomy of bees, wasps, and especially ants. Among other accomplishments, his works are the primary reference for the honeypot ants of North America, numerous groups of carpenter ants, and the entire Chilean myrmecofauna. Roy was a devoted desert rat, an aficionado of fine Mexican food, and- and I mean this in the very best way- a curmudgeon's curmudgeon."
Borowiec, a fourth-year doctoral student, joined the UC Davis entomology graduate program in 2010. He received his master's degree, with honors, in zoology in 2009 from the University of Wroclaw, Poland. His thesis focused on the taxonomy of Cerapachys sexspinus group.
Prebus, a third-year Ph.D student, received his bachelor of science degree in biology from Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash., in 2010 and then joined the Phil Ward lab. His research goals are to investigate when--and where--the hyperdiverse ant genus Temnothorax arose, and how it diversified on a global scale. Additionally, he willl revise the members of the genus from the Neotropical biogeographical region and investigate the relationship among members of the genus on the mainland and the Greater Antilles.
His project, “Understanding a Landmark Social Insect Radiation: Comparative Analysis, Phylogenomics and Morphology of Dorylomorph Ants,” is a two-year grant funded for $19,932.
“Army ants are some of the most striking organisms found in warm temperate and tropical regions of the world,” Borowiec wrote in his abstract. “They are the most important invertebrate predators of the tropics, making them key species in rainforest ecosystems. This research will reconstruct the evolutionary history of army ants and their close relatives. The family tree of these ants, their geographic origins and the timeline of the evolution of traits that account for their ecological dominance will be investigated.”
Borowiec will construct an evolutionary tree from the ants' DNA, using latest advances in molecular biology and bioinformatics. “This tree will then serve as a framework for testing hypotheses on the evolution of army ant characteristics,” he wrote. “This study will also provide a new framework for identification of army ants and closely related species.”
“This project will not only bring insights into the history of an ecologically important group of insects but also help to understand how the latest advances in molecular biology, statistics and computer science can improve our knowledge of evolutionary processes. New resources allowing easier and more accurate identification of these ants will aid other biologists and conservation specialists in decision making and planning further research on the group.”
Borowiec, who has studied with major professor Phil Ward since September 2010, received his master's degree, with honors, in zoology in 2009 from the University of Wroclaw, Poland. His thesis focused on the taxonomy of Cerapachys sexspinus group. He received his bachelor of science degree, with honors, in biological sciences/zoology in 2007, also from the University of Wrocław.
He has published his peer-reviewed research in ZooKeys, Journal of Hymenoptera Research Myrmecological News and Polish Journal of Entomology, among others.
Among his mostly published research:
Snelling R.S., Borowiec M.L., Prebus M.M. 2014. Studies on California ants: new species in the genus Temnothorax Mayr (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). ZooKeys, 372: 27-89.
Johnson B.R., Borowiec M.L., Chiu J.C., Lee E.K., Atallah J.,Ward P.S. 2013. Phylogenomics resolves the puzzle of evolutionary relationships among ants, bees, and wasps. ZooKeys 23:2058-2062.
Borowiec M.L., Borowiec L. 2013. New data on the occurrence of ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Lower Silesia and other regions of Poland [in Polish with English summary] Wiadomości Entomologiczne,32:49-57.